- A political analyst and author based in London warned against the deteriorating health conditions of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s Shiite majority, saying that Al Khalifa’s move to deny medical treatment to the top cleric is nothing but “1st-degree murder”.
"Sheikh Isa Qassim needs urgent medical attention; denying him equates to a death sentence … this is 1st-degree murder,” Director of Programs at Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies Catherine Shakdam said in an interview.
"I do not think that the international community appreciates just how grave the situation is and the ramification of its collective silence will bear on the world at large,” she noted.
Catherine Shakdam is an expert commentator and political consultant. Her writings have appeared in Foreign Policy Association and the Guardian among many other media outlets. Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting.
The following is the full text of the interview:
Q: As you may know, the Bahraini regime forces, in a recent politically motivated move, have extensively surrounded the house of Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of the country’s Shiite majority, in Diraz, west of Manama. The move came as the health condition of the top Shiite cleric has deteriorated, according to a statement from the UK-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD). Sheikh Qassim needs to undergo an emergency medical operation, the statement said. What is your assessment of the developments?
Shakdam: I would like first of all to extend my prayers to Sheikh Isa Qassim and those close to him, as he has been, and continues to be an inspiration - not just as a religious leader, but a man with profound love and respect for humanity. We ought to remember at this point in time that Sheikh Isa Qassim has always been an advocate for peace, and as such, the oppression he has been met with has been not only unwarranted but criminal. To have a man of his standing under house arrest stands testimony to the institutional devolution that is Al Khalifa regime. Sheikh Isa Qassim needs urgent medical attention. Denying him equates to a death sentence … this is 1st-degree murder. I do not think that the international community appreciates just how grave the situation is and the ramification its collective silence will bear on the world at large. How can you speak democracy and human rights and yet keep mum when a prominent scholar such as Sheikh Isa Qassim is being denied care on account he demanded his government showed humanity towards all Bahrainis? Sheikh Isa Qassim is being punished for opposing tyranny. His life is being threatened so that others would learn to accept tyranny as a socio-political reality. Voices like that of Sheikh Isa Qassim are important! All he has ever done is call for reforms within the spirit of democracy and social justice. He has always been a strong advocate of peace and it is a tragedy his efforts are being met by such vengeful violence.
Q: The people of the Persian Gulf country from all walks of life staged demonstrations in support of Sheikh Qassim on Monday and condemned the continued house arrest of the top cleric. In your opinion, can such protests pressure the Al Khalifa regime to lift the house arrest? What role could international human right bodies play in the incidents?
Shakdam: While of course, such shows of solidarity are important I fear the only pressure Manama will understand is that exerted by its patrons: Saudi Arabia and Western powers. Bahrain it needs to be said is not an independent state, not in the fashion that one would expect. Bahrain’s policies are formulated away from its capital … mostly in Riyadh. The only way to break this status quo would be to encourage western capitals to rethink their positions vis a vis Bahrain and see that for the region to be strong and stable power needs to be returned to the people. Sheikh Isa Qassim has become a living revolutionary symbol and so you must understand that his fate is very much tied to the fate of Bahrain’s revolution itself, which is why the authorities have been so relentless in their refusal to offer him respite. Much can be said of a system that is willing to risk a life to assert its authority. I would say that Bahrain and much of the Persian Gulf monarchies have devolved into a political aberration. It is evident too that such a system is not sustainable long-term. By acting tyrants today, Persian Gulf monarchies are essentially precipitating their demise. I realize that it offers little by way of comfort for Sheikh Isa Qassim current predicament but hope nevertheless exists.
Q: Do not you think that the Saudi lobby in Bahrain is behind such moves against Sheikh Qassim?
Shakdam: Absolutely! Nothing happens in Bahrain without Saudi Arabia knowledge. Bahrain is a Saudi client state that long bargained its independence so that its elite could enjoy wealth and position. Just like Riyadh is holding Yemen ransom to its geopolitical ambitions, Bahrain has become a battleground for Saudi Arabia’s new elite. Beyond simple geopolitics, we must recognize Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabist agenda and this hatred its clergy holds against Shia Islam. The kingdom sees power through the lens of sectarianism. It looks upon Shia Islam as an inherent existential threat to its own dogma. It is rather evident that Riyadh will do everything and anything to silence those voices that have risen in denunciation of its intolerance and injustice. I would venture and say that unless we take the threat of Saudi Arabia’s sectarian agenda very seriously we may soon wake up to a grand genocide. Bahrain is being bled for it is majority Shia, Yemen is being starved for claiming to its Shia heritage, Iraq and Syria were burnt by ISIS militants so that Shia Islam could be kept at bay.